The Epidemiology of Virtual Worlds and Our Own

Will Li in The Situationist:

“Some acted selflessly … though that meant they risked infection themselves.

Others fled infected cities in an attempt to save themselves.

And some who were sick made it their mission to deliberately infect others.” BBC News.

Ebola? Influenza? The movie “28 Days Later?” . . . or “Corrupted Blood” Disease in World of Warcraft?

In September of 2005, Blizzard Entertainment added a dungeon to their extremely popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) World of Warcraft (WoW). This dungeon featured an enemy at the end who, when killed, could infect players with a curse which could instantly kill weaker characters and eventually kill stronger ones. But, as reported in another BBC News report, rather than being confined to those playing in the dungeon, the disease inadvertently spread, passing from player to player, carried by computer programmed characters (non-player characters or NPCs), even manifesting on several game servers.

Ultimately, it killed thousands of player characters (temporarily) and led to “reports from the disaster zones with some describing seeing “hundreds” of bodies lying in the virtual streets of the online towns and cities.”

The very human reactions of individuals confronted with “Corrupted Blood” disease has since prompted researchers at the Tufts University School of Medicine to look into the virtual disease (and possible others) as disease models which could lend insight into human behavior. The August 21, 2007 BBC News article is excerpted below.

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Researcher Professor Nina Fefferman, from Tufts University School of Medicine, said: “Human behaviour has a big impact on disease spread. And virtual worlds offer an excellent platform for studying human behaviour.